This is a (kinda longish) lamentation written before I started working on the remake. Its primary purpose was to make all relevant facts about the original Knot in 3D gameplay clear to myself. In other words - as a reference point during the project.
What is this “Knot in 3D” thing?
It’s a ZX Spectrum game from 1983. You can find it in almost every Speccy top 100 games but I suspect it’s included because, at the time of it’s release, it was kind of a tech gimmick more so than well balanced, well playable game. It’s one of the first games using first person 3Dview on 8 bit machine. Nevertheless it’s fun to play once you “get it”.
And getting it means understanding what’s happening because at first the game looks like computer has frozen. After a while it starts to remind of a pseudo-random lo-fi screensaver. Suddenly the screen is beginning to look like Mondrian-gone-digital. You start to wonder: Do I have any control over these flashing blocks whatsoever?. Most people drop it at that point and go back to Manic Miner and Jetpac.
Since there’s not much info about Knot in 3D available on web, this text will try to bring it closer to players who had problems playing it back in 80s and maybe help them decide to give it another go.
Where am I? What am I doing?
To simply describe the game in one sentence: 3D first person tron-type game. What you see on the screen is first person view from your craft into three dimensional space (believe it or not!). This space is represented by a large cube subdivided into 16×16x16 smaller ones. Space is empty at the beginning of the game - that’s why, at first, you see nothing but white background. Player’s craft flies though, moving one sub-cube at the time, leaving yellow-cyan-green colored trail at visited cubes. There’s also a number of computer controlled crafts (chasers) doing the same thing. Chaser crafts are not visible. Their red-blue-magenta trails are though. Your goal is to steer, avoid crashing into trails and survive as long as possible. The game arena fills denser and denser with trails making it harder not to crash as you progress. Again, think 3D Tron.
Movement and controls
Your craft moves straight forward at constant velocity. It is also capable of doing sharp 90 degrees turn in one of four directions: left, right, up or down. Same movement rules apply to computer controlled chasers. Turning directions are always relative to craft’s current heading - for instance, doing two consecutive left turns will actually face you back into direction you were coming from. Turning is done by arrow keys or joystick (game will ask you at the beginning).
It looks like it’s easy to get lost since after just a few turns you can’t tell which way you’re headed. This is true and might be confusing at first but inside the game arena there’s nothing but empty space filled with trails. There’s no gravity. It’s of little relevance to know which way is the “real” up or “real” left. Player should just concentrate on current situation and do his best at avoiding the trails. Left is what’s left relative to craft’s current heading, and right is what’s right relative… Relativity.
The game space wraps around - if you exit at one side you’ll reappear at the opposite side, kind of like the Pacman does just in three dimensions. Since you always see at least 16 cubes in front of you, it’s not possible to tell when the actual wrapping happened. It seems you can go infinitely long in one direction.
Game mechanics: stages, density and scoring
Game head-up display shows four pieces of information. Large number on the left is the stage (level) number. “Score” bar shows your current score, “density” is percentage of space filled with trails and “faults” is number of player’s crashes with trails. If player makes certain number of faults - the game is over.
For each move forward you are given one point. When score bar is pass one of four markers, space is cleared, extra chaser is added and you’ve advanced to the next stage. Of course the more chasers are in the arena the faster it will become cluttered. Game has four stages. If you reach fourth score marker you are back to stage one (unlikely this will ever happen though because survival with four chasers is next to impossible).
Interesting aspects of the game
It’s not obvious at first but game has a sort of sandboxiness to it. Very simple sort though measured by today’s standards but we’re talking 1983 here. You start inside absolutely empty space, a blank page, and you have a great deal of control over turning it into three dimensional maze you need to overcome later. The whole game environment is kind of transformable by player. The background ideas here was to let player employ different navigating strategies to fill space in a different, more or less passable ways. This is of course obscured by the fact that game is too demanding for most of people.
Why remake it?
On today’s hardware it’s relatively easy to represent the game’s simplistic three dimensional world and make it more playable. So there’s a lot of place for improvement of graphics, animation and gameplay without losing the appeal of original concept.
Knot in 3D author/publisher
Game is written by Malcolm E. Evans, and published by New Generation Software in 1983. New Generation is responsible for other innovative and unique game titles such as Escape, Trashman and Cliff Hanger.